Tucked away in a picturesque residential street in the historic part of East Sheen, not far from Richmond Park, is the pretty little gastro pub and hotel, The Victoria. Its website tells us that it is owned and run by restaurateur Greg Bellamy and TV chef Paul Merrett. He of Saturday Kitchen fame was trained by Gary Rhodes and previously chef at the Michelin starred The Glasshouse in Kew. With such pedigree, expectations of a superb meal are obviously high, so four of us went there for midweek supper in anticipation of something really quite special.
The pub has a cosy bar area with a sofa and fireplace, a rustic, light and airy dining conservatory and a leafy garden as well as boasting seven small but attractively presented ensuite bedrooms at £125 per night for single occupancy and £135 for a double. Conveniently, particularly in this area, it also has a car park.
The dining room is nicely designed with tables well spaced out, the service is impeccable, friendly and welcoming, the vista on to the garden, which has its own outdoor BBQ kitchen, pleasant, and the atmosphere most conducive to a relaxed evening a quatre. The menu offers up some tempting choices, the starters composed of a nice sounding selection of tapas dishes, the mains a good variety to suit all tastes with quite interesting sounding flavour and texture combinations. Our bottle of Sauvignon was perfectly chilled, a homemade raspberry lemonade refreshing and a little different from the usual run of the mill soft drinks. So far, so fabulous.
Chunky doorstep slices of crusty white bread with oil and balsamic vinegar staved off our initial ravenousnous at a charge of £1.50. The chorizo Iberico on chargrilled sourdough with a fried egg was plentiful and pronounced to be delicious, the chickpea and basil hummous with pine nuts and toasted pitta bread too was a good portion and nicely unusual, if not exactly spectacular. The homemade labneh, also with toasted pitta, was just about saved from being boring by the addition of a little sumac and pomegranate kernels, the king prawn a la plancha tasty but predictable, the chargrilled courgettes with toasted sunflower seeds which I had erroneously assumed to be crispy, crunchy and cheesy were watery and quite outstandingly dull, with the promised Tunsworth cheese not noticeably in evidence.
As for our main courses, the hake steak was a good quality and succulent piece of fish with the combination of apple slices rather successful, although it didn’t offer much for the eye to feast on, save for a separate colourful dish of Bhel Puri salad, a mixture of pomegranate, chilli, coriander, date, lime and tamarind dressing, which could have done with more flavour and bite to complement the vaguely bland hake. The apparently ‘super trendy chargrilled rare breed’ Hot Dog Bar did what it said on the tin, so to speak, and went down well. Similarly, the crispy Middle Eastern falafel with tabouleh, roasted vegetables, tzatziki and baba ganoush was, well, exactly that and nice enough but bore no taste surprises. The lemon thyme chicken with a salad of avocado, quinoa, edamame, bean shoots and broccoli in a mint and chilli dressing was dry, chewy and completely tasteless, though at least the portions of chunky thrice cooked chips and skinny fries were excellent. On the plus side, the lemon lime cheesecake with mango sorbet for pudding was lovely, creamy, tangy and with a great biscuit base, the two truffles with coffee okay but not amazing.
Pernickety as we are, we checked the bill and found that, no doubt in error, we had been charged for a glass of red wine which we had neither ordered nor consumed. Excluding that but including three coffees and service charge, we paid £145.46.
Hey ho, maybe Paul Merrett was on his summer holidays or perhaps the kitchen was having an off day. The food on this occasion, despite all the impressive credentials, was far from inspiring, more gastric band than gastro, a bit bland, a bit wishy washy but not altogether terrible by any means. This restaurant’s saving grace is its relaxed neighbourhood vibe and it’s excellent service. I’d certainly give it a second chance but for it to compete with the many other local restaurants of a similar ilk, it needs to tickle those taste buds quite a bit more than it does to live up the glorious experience The Victoria promises.
The Victoria, Restaurant and Hotel, 10 West Temple Sheen, East Sheen, London SW14 7RT Tel.: (0)20 8876 4238 www.thevictoria.net